By Mark E. Vogler
LAWRENCE — Up to 75 permanent teachers in the Lawrence Public Schools learned from their principals Monday that they must undergo a rigorous review involving unannounced classroom observations that may determine whether they keep their jobs next year.
The classroom evaluators — retired school superintendents working under the direction of Dale R. Libkin, the new assistant superintendent of teacher effectiveness — could begin the reviews of "teachers of concern" as early as today in a process that is expected to last through mid-June, according to Superintendent/receiver Jeffrey C. Riley.
The teachers who will be subject to close scrutiny represent 5 to 8 percent of the 900-plus permanent teachers in the education system with more than three years experience who have attained professional status. They were identified either because of a recent principal assessment, their work history or because their classroom performance "raises concerns" about their teaching capabilities, Riley said.
"It's the beginning of a new process of accountability," Riley said in an interview last night of the unprecedented teacher reviews he has ordered under special powers granted him as a result of the state takeover of the city's education system, which serves some 13,000 students.
"Historically, few school systems across the country actually go to this detail in observation of teachers. But we're going to raise the bar in our expectations and we expect great things from our teachers," Riley said.
Riley, now on the job about 2 1/2 months, has begun an aggressive review of teachers as part of a major turnaround process that he's overseeing as a result of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education declaring Lawrence Public Schools a Level 5 "chronically underperforming" school district late last November.
"Since I have been on the ground, I've spent a lot of time in the classrooms of every school and I've found that the majority of our teachers are doing a great job," Riley stressed.
"But the truth is, not everybody is — and we are going to be looking closely at people we have concerns about. We're making no assumptions going in. It wouldn't surprise me if some people are cleared and are determined to be okay. It wouldn't surprise me if people lost their jobs either. This is just a review," he said.
Riley disclosed last night that he expects to begin a similar review for the city's 28 principals by week's end. Principals must be notified by April 15 as to whether they have been rehired for the next school year.
"Going forward, we're going to be looking at teachers, principals and central staff every year to make sure we have the right people in charge of our kids," Riley said.
"We have a mandate to really start looking more closely at the effectiveness of all employees in the Lawrence Public Schools. At the end of the day, you have to have the right people dealing with the kids. I believe in teachers rights, but I believe in kids' rights more," he said.
Lawrence Teachers Union President Frank McLaughlin said he expects many of the teachers who have been identified for review to be cleared and returned to the classroom. McLaughlin said he believes some of the teachers may have received poor evaluations because of personality problems with principals.
"I think the process is fair, impartial and free of politics and will quickly reveal that many teachers who have unfortunately been misidentified. So, we welcome the review." McLaughlin said.
Any teacher recommended for dismissal can meet with a formal review panel, that must submit a recommendation to the receiver by June 26. If the receiver determines a teacher to be unsatisfactory, he or she will be dismissed from the school system on or before June 30.
Teachers who have been identified for review have the option to resign to avoid the observation process, but must submit a resignation by April 2.
Riley said he's received some resignations, but won't say how many.